As former Murray State point guard Cameron Payne goes through his morning pre-draft workout at the IMG Academy in Florida, a number of insults are shouted at him.
“Nobody even knows who you are! You’re too small! You aren’t good enough to play in the NBA! No top programs recruited you out of high school! You can’t compete with the elite point guards!”
No, these aren’t haters or hecklers who are criticizing Payne. These are his IMG pre-draft coaches, yelling these things because the 2015 NBA Draft prospect loves to be taunted as he goes through his various drills and shooting exercises. The coaches also do this to see how he responds to the ribbing.
Rather than getting frustrated or distracted, the barrage of put-downs motivates him and he elevates his game. He clenches his teeth, and proceeds to hit shot after shot. With each make, he’s gaining confidence and yelling back.
“Keep talking!” Payne shouts. “I won’t miss if you keep talking. What else do you got?”
He loves following up each insult with a swish. After a little while, he steps far behind the NBA three-point line and continues to knock down jumpers with ease. Soon, he’s firing up shots with a lightning quick release and turning around to talk trash before the ball even goes in – Stephen Curry style.
As the verbal jabs keep coming and the shots keep falling, he’s no longer clenching his teeth or sporting a death stare. Now, he’s grinning and exuding swagger. He loves the reminders that he has been doubted his whole life, that nobody thought he’d be in this position. Yet here he is, several weeks away from turning his NBA dream into reality.
“It definitely fuels my fire,” Payne said with a smile when asked about this trash talking with his trainers. “I’m the underdog. I’ve been overlooked. When people say these things, it’s nothing new. I’ve heard it all before. I’m just here to do my Cam Payne thing.”
“I think it definitely motivates him and, look, he’s never been stopped,” said IMG Academy’s Head Skills Trainer Dan Barto. “His whole life he’s been told little things about his game, but he’s always found a way to succeed. Some of our coaches, who are former players themselves, have tried to get under his skin to see how high he can notch up [his game]. That’s something that a lot of the best players can do – the guys like Chauncey Billups, who I trained when I first started here, and Iman Shumpert, who I train every summer. Those guys have that same mode where as soon as you start talking trash, they’re like, ‘Okay, keep going. I’m going to show you. You’re going to end up looking bad.’ Cam is the same way.”
The insults directed at Payne seem laughable these days, since he was outstanding during his sophomore season at Murray State and he’s been equally impressive during the pre-draft process. Lately, he has been generating a lot of buzz and impressing NBA executives. He’s improving his stock and climbing draft boards rapidly, to the point that league sources believe he has a promise from a team picking in the lottery – perhaps even in the top 10. It seems inevitable that he’ll be selected very early on the night of June 25.
But it wasn’t long ago that some of those criticisms that were shouted were actually used to describe Payne and discredit his game, and that’s something he’ll never forget. He was a three-star recruit coming out of high school at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, and he wasn’t even ranked nationally by some recruiting services. He was told that he didn’t have the size or talent to be a star in college, and bigger schools didn’t recruit him.
As a freshman at Murray State, he exceeded expectations and averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Out of curiosity, he wondered if his first-year success had put him on any future NBA mock drafts. He was still projected to go undrafted on some mocks and ranked extremely low on others. While he wasn’t surprised by this, he did see something that infuriated him while looking at the projections: A number of players whom he had destroyed on the court were ranked significantly ahead of him. Even though he believed making it to the NBA was a long shot given the questions about his game and his lack of exposure at a mid-major school, he was determined to showcase his talent and prove he was better than those players.
He did just that in his sophomore season with the Racers. He averaged 20.2 points, 6.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals while limiting his turnovers to 2.5 per game and improving his shooting percentages to 45.6 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three-point range. He was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year and, most importantly, led Murray State to 29 wins and a top-25 ranking at one point during the season. With the team winning and his numbers jumping off the page, it was impossible for Payne to be overlooked any longer.
“The second half of this last NCAA season at Murray State is when I realized [I might make it to the NBA],” Payne said. “We were getting noticed and that’s one of the main things about getting to that level: you’ve got to get noticed. We were winning games. If we didn’t win games, Cameron Payne would still be at Murray State. But we won games and everything worked out. Like our coach always said, the more team accolades we get, the more individual accolades you get, and that’s what happened. A lot of players on our team were getting that exposure just because what we did as a team. That was all that really mattered – what we did as a team – and that got me great exposure.”
He carried the Racers all season, leading them in points, assists, steals, field goals and three-pointers. He also received more exposure because he had a number of monster performances that turned heads throughout the course of his second season.
On December 13, Payne had 32 points (on 10-19 shooting, including 4-7 from three), eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in a win over Evansville. On January 22, he posted 33 points (on 12-20 shooting, including 3-5 from three), five rebounds and four assists in a win over Eastern Illinois. One week later, he filled the stat sheet in a win over Eastern Kentucky, contributing 21 points (on 8-16 shooting), 10 rebounds, five assists and six steals. On February 28, he had 31 points (on 12-24 shooting, including 4-9 from three), eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in a win over Tennessee Martin.
He says he never thought playing in the NBA was a realistic possibility for him until several months ago. It was always something he dreamed about, but he never got his hopes up. Now, there’s no doubt he’ll be in the league next season. The only question is, how high will he be selected on draft night?
Payne admits that this last month and a half has been very strange for him. Executives (including some basketball legends) are praising his game, NBA players are treating him like a peer and fans are analyzing every tweet or video he posts for clues as to where he may land. For example, several fans tweeted their excitement to see Payne wearing Indiana Pacers shorts in a Vine of one of his daily IMG workouts (even though it’s common for prospects to keep the shorts that teams give them and continue to wear them during training). After years of being underrated, Payne is finally getting the attention he deserves and he’s still adjusting to that.
“I approach everything the same way, but I can tell you right now, it’s a big time difference,” Payne said of this last month. “It’s a big time difference going from, ‘Yeah, maybe he could get on the team,’ to, ‘Ah man, we’ve got to get him!’ For me to be [projected to go] in the lottery, it’s just a blessing. I cannot thank anybody else but God. He put me in that position. I didn’t see it coming and now that I’m here and in this position, I just want to work and keep getting better.”
He’s certainly buying into the process at the IMG Academy, where nearly every waking hour is dedicated to making him a better player and preparing him for the NBA. He was one of the first prospects to start his pre-draft training, arriving on the IMG campus in March, and he has been working extremely hard and making considerable progress ever since.
Each morning, he starts his day doing various drills and conditioning exercises on IMG’s football field. Then, he’s in the weight room for an hour (which he says is the most important part of his training schedule since he wants to bulk up). He then heads to the gym, where he goes through his first basketball workout of the day, which consists of a lot of shooting and head-to-head drills against other draft prospects. After a three-hour break, he’s back in the gym for his second on-court workout of the day, which is usually a five-on-five pickup game that features the other draft prospects as well as current NBA players (such as Utah’s Rodney Hood and Orlando’s Maurice Harkless among others). After that, he winds down by watching the playoffs, looking at game film or playing NBA 2K.
Also, IMG’s staff has him on a customized nutrition plan, so all of his meals are designed to ensure that he’s consuming the right foods. There are also off-court activities designed to improve his hand-eye coordination and media skills among other things.
Payne is enjoying the pre-draft grind and realizes that the work he’s doing will not only help him improve right now, but also potentially extend his playing career since he’s taking excellent care of his body.
“I’m definitely focused on my strength and nutrition,” Payne said. “Those are the two main things. In college, you don’t eat like you should, so I’m definitely here to work on improving the things that I put in my body. Like people always say, you can’t put 87 in a Porsche – you’ve got to put the right fuel in there. That’s what I’m doing here, finding out the certain foods that will keep my body going so I’ll be able to play all the way into my 40s. And I’ve got to get stronger because that will help every aspect of my game; my defense, that’s the main thing I need to work on, and I believe it comes along with strength. My focus is definitely the weight room and my nutrition.”
Barto and the rest of the IMG staff have been extremely impressed with Payne and the work he has been doing on and off the court.
“The first thing that stands out is that he’s the ultimate competitor,” Barto said. “You don’t move up as quickly as he has – from a mid-major player to a dominant college star to an NBA draft prospect – and dominate as many point guard categories as he did analytically without having something special about you. I just don’t see the kid not succeeding, and I see him being part of a championship run after a couple years in the NBA.
“His body continues to improve and so does his understanding of the nutrition it’s going to take to be an 82-game guy – or hopefully even more games – as a rookie. I think also there’s the small things [he’s improving] like little things about his shooting mechanics, how he finishes around the basket and his ability to change speeds. Some people, I think, question his quickness or his first step, but when he really focuses on changing speeds, none of that matters. He moves like a lot of the elite point guards in the NBA, where they find ways to get to open space.”
One aspect of Payne’s game that has exceeded expectations at IMG is his playmaking ability. The coaches rave about his court vision and passing, which weren’t always on display in college since he was often asked to score the ball at Murray State. Sure, there were times where he got others involved and made good passes. But he has taken his facilitating to another level now. When he’s in pick-up games with other NBA-caliber players, he’s playing like a traditional point guard and racking up assists.
“I think his ability to pass the ball is underrated,” Barto said. “Here, he’s been able to play with a lot of NBA players and players who’ve had success in the D-League, so he doesn’t need to score every time like he did at Murray State. I’ve seen enough of him in high-level pick-up games in this type of environment to see that with the extra space, the side pick-and-rolls and the high ball screens, he gives the ball up before the weak-side shot blocker gets there or he gives the ball up early when teams try to trap him. And that’s in just three weeks of work. When I visualize where he could be after a full year or two years of work and with how highly competitive he is, his ceiling is really tough to determine. It’s just so high.”
Advanced analytics support that Payne can be an excellent facilitator. Last season, he had the highest assist percentage of all the prospects ranked in Draft Express’ top 100, and he averaged 7.3 assists per 40 minutes despite the fact that he wasn’t surrounded by top-tier teammates like some of the other draft prospects who went to larger schools. It’s becoming clear that Payne is a well-rounded point guard who can fit with just about any team since he can thrive in a number of different roles.
“[The team that drafts me] is going to get an all-around great point guard, a point guard who can do anything that the team needs,” Payne said. “I’ll do whatever the coach asks. In college, Coach [Steve] Prohm told me, ‘I need you to score a little more,’ and that’s what I did. When I get into the NBA, if I’m to sit in the corner and shoot threes, that is what I’m going to do. If I’m needed to be a lock down a defender, I’m going to work on my defense and do that. Anything the coaches need, that’s what Cameron Payne is going to do.”
If Payne’s journey sounds familiar, it’s because his ascent is very similar to that of fellow mid-major point guards Damian Lillard and Elfrid Payton. Like Payne, Lillard and Payton were being projected as second-round picks before thriving in their final collegiate season and in draft workouts, which allowed them to climb draft boards and eventually be selected No. 6 and No. 10, respectively. When asked who can be this year’s Lillard or Payton, Payne doesn’t hesitate.
“I believe it’s definitely me,” Payne said. “The reason [I wasn’t noticed] is because we are a mid-major program so we don’t get put on T.V. every day and people don’t talk about you every day. Now, we go into these meetings and all they want to know is, ‘Cameron Payne, who are you? Tell me something about you.’ Now, there’s so many good things that [are mentioned with] my name and people say, ‘I mean, how could you not like that guy?’ In this process, your personality comes out and shows because the people get to know you. That changes their whole perception about you and then when they get to know you, they start to watch more games. Then they say, ‘Okay, this guy can ball and he has a great personality. He’s this, he’s that.’
“That’s how I feel those players [like Lillard and Payton] move up. It’s also because they worked hard for everything they got. I haven’t been in that spotlight before and now that I am, I’m not going to take that spotlight for granted. I’m going to be the one who takes advantage of this, because that’s what I did going into college – I took advantage of my opportunity and did the best I could. Now I’m on this stage and I’m going to do the same.”
Payne has studied Lillard’s game and he may work out with Payton at some point in the next few weeks, since the Orlando Magic point guard is planning to spend some time training at IMG with his teammate Harkless.
Payne spends a significant amount of time watching NBA games and breaking down film, and Lillard is just one of many elite point guards he studies.
“I definitely study Chris Paul,” Payne said. “He has some high-flyers on his team and he knows how to keep them involved. I’ve talked to a lot of NBA general managers and they say they really count on paint touches, and Chris Paul gets into the paint almost every possession. I definitely watch him a lot and I try to see how he comes off ball screens and things like that, because he’s one of the best point guards in the league right now along with Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard – I’m not trying to leave anybody out. But Chris Paul has been there and done it [for years]. He’s played at a high level and [makes his teammates perform] at a high level. He gets everybody involved and he makes his team better. Like when he was with the New Orleans Hornets, he took them to the playoffs in the Western Conference. He definitely does his job and I feel like that’s the type of player I am.”
Soon, Payne hopes to hear his name mentioned in the same sentence as those superstar point guards. He’s an extremely confident player and he has very high expectations for himself, so one of his goals is to be an elite floor general in the league.
“I just want to be one of the best point guards in the NBA; that’s my goal,” Payne said. “Down the road, if God blesses me to, I definitely want to be an All-Star. All of that’s going to come with hard work and lot of humbleness, and I’m down for it. I’ve been doing it my whole life, so I’m just going to keep grinding.”
Doubt him at your own risk.
NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019
The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.
The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.
Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.
Here are some of the situation to watch:
The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.
Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.
There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.
The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.
With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm
Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.
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NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation
Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.
Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.
“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”
On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.
To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.
That’s when something clicked in his head.
“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.
“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”
Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.
Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.
On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.
The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.
When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.
“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.
“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.
If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?
When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.
But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.
The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.
“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.
“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”
Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.
Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.
“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”
In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.
Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.
“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”
While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.
Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.
NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.
“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”
Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.
If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.
“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”
Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?
And that’s what will separate him from the rest.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?
With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.
The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.
The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.
There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.
Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.
Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.
Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to
Get The Third Star
Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.
Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.
Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.
Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.
Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).
The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.
Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.
That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.
Get Reliable Role Players
The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.
Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.
You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.
Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.
Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer
Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.
The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.
There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.
All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?